Speaking alongside first responders and two local mayors in Collinsville, U.S. Senator Dick Durbin, D-Illinois, said stronger safety measures are needed for trains carrying crude oil.
Durbin on Friday called for safety measures in addition to recently established U.S. Department of Transportation rules to strengthen rail tank cars that carry flammable materials such as volatile crude oil and ethanol across the country.
As the United States produces more gas and oil, it leads to the shipment of more crude oil and other flammable material by train, Durbin said.
“Earlier this month, the U.S. Department of Transportation put out regulations and safety standards for tank cars carrying hazardous materials, including crude oil,” Durbin said. “There’s a lot more we need to do. The rules set tougher standards for tank cars and sets the timelines for the cars we currently use to be retrofitted to meet higher standards.”
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By Oct. 1, cars will need to have thicker shell and thermal protections.
“This makes sense,” Durbin said. “Crude oil and other materials being carried through our towns should be transported under the highest standards and safest tank cars.”
Durbin is co-sponsoring two bills as part of the issue.
One bill calls for an expedited phase out of weaker tanks that carry crude oil and would require the U.S. DOT to establish a national maximum volatility standard within a year to help determine whether standards should be set for the volatility of tank car contents to reduce flammability risk. It would also expand the scope of 40 mph speed restrictions to include more areas.
The other bill offers monetary incentives for railroads that replace old fleets. If passed, the legislation would establish a $175 per-car fee on crude and ethanol shipped in older tanks that would be used to provide training for first responders, cleanup in the event there is an accident, hiring additional inspectors and rail line relocation to move tracks to safer routes. The fee would double each year to incentivize a quicker phase-out of the oldest tank cars.
The bill also provides a 15 percent tax credit for 3 years to companies that update their newer cars to the higher standards set in the DOT rules and requires more information about derailments to be disclosed to the Federal Railroad Administration and first responders, according to Durbin’s office.
“What we’ve got to do is create an incentive for the transformation to the safer tank cars,” he said.
Durbin complemented BNSF Railway for phasing out old tankers, on their own without a federal mandate
“This railroad is going into communities and meeting with first responders and others and talking about what would you do if something happened,” Durbin said. “In North Dakota, it was that training that prepared them for a recent derailment and saved lives. We want to turn to the private sector to cooperate as quickly as possible before even these federal directives change.”
During the event, Durbin spoke about train derailments, including a derailment near Galena earlier this year where the train carrying crude oil caught fire, and as well as a propane train explosion in Collinsville 37 years ago.
Durbin did say there is a limited amount of trains coming through the metro-east carrying crude oil, but there are other flammable and hazardous materials to be aware of.
“We’re leading the national discussion because of new tank cars carrying crude oil but we shouldn’t limit the conversation to that commodity,” Durbin said. “There are many other commodities, proven in Collinsville 37 years ago, that are just as dangerous. Our tank car safety has to be sensitive to that.”
Joseph Cluchey, state operations section chief for the Mutual Aid Box Alarm System in Illinois, said incidents in Galena, and a 2009 train derailment in Cherry Valley involving ethanol, were luckily away from highly populated areas.
He said it is important to advocate for track inspections and higher standards for tank car construction.
“I believe the greatest thing we can do is prevent these incidents from happening.” Cluchey said.
Also at the news conference was Collinsville Mayor John Miller, East St. Louis Mayor Emeka Jackson-Hicks and representatives from metro-east fire departments and the Illinois Fire Chiefs Association.
“Our municipalities and our citizens are at risk by the railroad traffic that go through our communities, but our first responders are at most risk when they respond to an emergency without knowing what’s actually carried on that train or in those tank cars,” Miller said.
Edwardsville Fire Chief Rick Welle said the metro-east does have hazardous material teams to help respond to incidents. It is a resource not readily available in some areas.
“There are still areas across the state … that don’t benefit from having a hazardous material team that close,” Welle said. “That’s why safety on the rails is so important.”
Durbin addresses Hastert indictment
U.S. Senator Dick Durbin on Friday also briefly spoke about the indictment of former U.S. Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert who is from the Chicago suburbs.
“I was stunned. I heard about it yesterday, and I couldn’t believe it. I served with him in the Illinois delegation, I worked with him when he was speaker,” Durbin said. “It was something I never would have ever imagined … I don’t know the details, we haven’t heard his side of the story, in fairness, but it’s really troubling.”